”We brought the anchor up and tried to re-anchor. And tried to re-anchor and tried to re-anchor. .”
Woohoo! We’ve arrived. Let’s go sightseeing! Unfortunately that’s not usually how it works when you arrive in a new country by sailing boat. Entry formalities are much stricter here in the Caribbean than in Europe or Cape Verde and you cannot go on land at all until you have passed through health, immigration and customs. Due to Coronavirus, there is only one official port of entry - Bridgetown, the capital. Barbados is not well set up for visiting yachts - most sailors bypass it for this reason and because it lies outside of the dotted crescent line of the other Lesser Antilles islands. You have to dock in the deep water harbour - designed for cruise ships and we were a bit worried about this as we didn’t want to scrape the sides of the boat. Luckily, the deep water harbour was busy when we arrived, so we were directed to the nearby anchorage - in turquoise crystal clear water lined by a white sand beach called Carlisle Bay. From there, with our yellow Q for ‘quarantine’ flag flying for the first time, we dinghied round to the deep water harbour. We were not allowed to dinghy into town and walk there. Mooring against the great rough concrete wall at the back of a giant cruise ship, we spotted the ladder to climb out. The only problem was that the ladder stopped halfway up the wall. I clambered halfway up, hands vainly trying to grip on the smooth concrete surface. There was nothing to hold onto! Down below was Luciano in a wobbly dinghy. How could I climb out? I saw a port worker and waved him over. Luckily he could give me a hand up. Then it was Luciano’s turn and we both hauled him up.
The port worker introduced himself. Unfortunately he has to remain nameless for reasons that will become apparent. ‘Are you going in for clearance?” he said. “That’s right,” we said. “Over there, go and sort yourselves out first. Then would you mind buying me some bottles of spirits. Here’s the list of what I want and here’s the exact money. Only we’re not allowed to use the duty free.” So we took his money and his list and went to go through clearance. First up was the health department. Luckily Barbados, unlike some other Caribbean islands I could mention, takes a pragmatic approach to PCR tests. As we had been at sea for 19 days and therefore could logically not still be infectious we were allowed to proceed without paying for a costly PCR test. We did have to show our vaccination and booster certificates. Next were immigration and customs and finally it was time to buy the duty free spirits. The port worker had asked us to go to a specific duty free shop. We asked another port worker where this shop was. “Are you buying alcohol for someone? I know what’s going on!” “Er…no,” we said, not wanting to get the other port worker in trouble. “It’s only that I’d like you to buy some for me too. Here’s the money, the ladies in the shop will know what I want. You are allowed six bottles each, so you are buying four bottles for the other man, buy me six.” In we went. We had two bottles left of our allowance after the port workers’ orders were accounted for. I spotted some Mount Gay rum and bought two bottles. It was still only eight o’clock in the morning, so unfortunately I couldn’t start drinking it yet.
Back on the boat we ate and then slept most of the day, luxuriating in not having to keep waking up to do watches. The next afternoon we were working on our blog and vlog posts for the Atlantic crossing when we heard a loud voice “Hello, anyone on board?” I went outside. There was a man swimming near the back of our boat. “I think your anchor is dragging”. I looked over towards his catamaran. Sure enough, we did seem to have drifted closer to it. His wife was nervously putting out fenders. The wind had picked up to about 25 knots. I ran inside to tell Luciano. We switched on the engine and started pulling up the anchor. Well in our rush and panic we made a right dog’s dinner of it. The anchor chain jammed as it was being lifted up. I couldn’t see anything as the cockpit awning was obstructing my vision. In the end I told Luciano to leave the anchor chain and come and take the cockpit awning down so I could at least see what I was doing. He brought it down, but he was having no luck unjamming the anchor chain. “I don’t know what to do”. I went to have a look and he took the helm. Well of course as soon as I tried to release it, it released straight away. “Are you sure it was jammed?” I said. “Yes!” he insisted. We brought the anchor up and tried to re-anchor. And tried to re-anchor and tried to re-anchor. We tried several different locations. I put my goggles on and swam to look at the anchor. There was a slight drag mark. I wasn’t sure if this was normal. I went to look at two other boat’s anchors. They didn’t have the drag marks. They were also all the modern spade style anchors. Plus ours was lying on its side and theirs were face down, dug in. We have a CQR which was a good anchor back in the 80s. We knew we would need to upgrade soon, but thought it would be good enough until we met stronger wind conditions. It hadn’t been a problem anywhere else until now and we had looked all over Europe but hadn’t found the style that we needed. We thought the Caribbean might be a better place to get one as anchoring is more common here, compared to Europe where marinas are more common. I went back to look at our anchor. It would hold just in the wind. but as soon as we put the engine in reverse, even at low revs, it started dragging. It was already approaching evening. The wind dropped as it does in the evening. We have an 11kg second anchor of a different type. We put it in the dinghy and Luciano rowed back, and dropped it at a 45 degree angle from the first one. I pulled in the slack to help it set. He came back, put it in reverse and I swam out to look at it. It was dragging. We put on all our anchor alarms and set an alarm clock to be woken up every hour so we could take it in turns to check. So much for unbroken sleep once we had crossed the Atlantic.
The next morning, Luciano stayed on the boat while I went ashore to look for a new anchor. We were looking for a 20kg spade style anchor. The chandlery owner, Alex from Marine Power Solutions (nicest boat chandlery ever) asked what kind of anchor we had. When I said a CQR, he said immediately that they can’t hold here as the sand is too fine, they just fall over on the side. They had a 25kg one, but would it fit? It was one a customer had bought and didn’t want, so it was the only one of its kind. We tried to measure if it would fit on our bow roller and if our windlass could handle the extra weight. For comparison, our current anchor is only 16kg. In the end, Alex the owner agreed to let us try it for free and even dropped me with it at the place in town where I had left the dinghy. I got back to the boat, we manoeuvred it off the dinghy and on to the boat, then lumbered it to the bow and lifted it over the front (attached to a line of course) to see if it would fit. It would! It was about 3.00pm. The shop closed at 4.00pm. I called Alex and asked if he would mind if we could fit the new anchor first and then come and pay in the morning as we were dragging. “No problem”. We motored out of the bay, put it on autopilot and together fitted the new anchor. Back we went to the bay; dropped the anchor. Out I swam to look: no drag marks. Luciano put it in reverse up to 1500rpm; it did not shift. What a relief! We slept soundly that night.
So that was the urgent urgent issue to sort out. Next day was the merely urgent - the watermaker. We had thought its failure to work was due to the heeling of the boat on passage, but this didn’t quite explain it as it is a highly regarded watermaker used by other sailors. And when we arrived at anchorage it was still not working. We pored back through the manual for troubleshooting. It identified the most common issue as being air leaking from the prefilter, which means the pressure isn’t high enough for it to work effectively. We had already lowered the prefilter to below the height of the pump which is supposed to address one possible cause of air bubbles getting trapped. Next we saw in the manual that the type of sealant used must be non hardening. We took out the valve from the pipe where it attaches to the prefilter and sure enough the sealant used was the type that hardens and had disintegrated. This would explain why it worked when we tested it originally soon after it was installed and then stopped when we were out on passage. We went ashore to look for the recommended sealant brands but to no avail. In the end we decided to use butyl tape, a sticky putty that never hardens that we used to seal our solar panel arch. It worked instantly! We have a working water maker so we can now drink water that doesn’t taste of bleach as our tank water does.
The next day we were determined to do something enjoyable after all the boat work. Obviously the main attractions in Barbados are its beaches. Unfortunately due to all the swimming when I was checking the anchor I had burned my back! What could we do that was shady? We took our folding bikes and cycled to Welchman Hall Gully. A lot of the places we have visited so far have been too mountainous to cycle in (wouldn’t fancy it in Madeira or Cape Verde for example!) Barbados is not volcanic and is thus more low lying. Having said that the route was still mostly uphill and we are out of practice! We huffed and puffed our way in the heat to the gully 15km inland. Once there we gulped down a nice cold drink. Then we strolled around this enchanting gully filled with amazing tropical plants that grow inside the walls of a giant cave. The roof is collapsed so the gully is enclosed in the walls but the trees have access to the sunlight above and they have certainly taken advantage of it, some of them are humungous. We saw the biggest bamboo and palm trees we have ever seen!
Barbadian green monkeys live in the trees, consuming all the fruits that grow. We also saw chunky segmented black millipedes making surprisingly slow progress with their innumerous wine coloured spindly legs amongst the decaying matter that they enjoy chomping on. We were fortunate enough to catch sight of a tiny leaf-green lizard sunbathing on a tree trunk. Try as we might though, despite haunting all the dark overhangs of the cave walls, we could not spot the bats that are supposed to live there. The variety of trees was pretty incredible. From the bearded fig tree, from which Barbados gets its name: “the bearded ones” in Portuguese. We saw rubber trees, coffee trees and a whole load more. Interestingly there was the “Pop-A-Gun” tree, a native tree from which children use the hollow leaf stem to make pea shooters out of. There is also a swizzle stick tree from which cocktail mixing sticks are made. Who knew the type of wood was so specific for this task! Our favourite of course was the cocoa tree, bearing many cocoa pods, mmmm…it gave us the idea to reward our hard day of cycling with a visit to the chocolate factory when we arrived back in Bridgetown. The chocolate factory makes ice cream from almond and coconut milk, so is vegan friendly. The ice cream was delicious!
Speaking of food, it took me precisely one day to become hopelessly addicted to the Bajan hot pepper sauce. I am now completely unable to eat anything without this sauce on it. This last happened when I visited Mexico and became addicted to chilli sauce there. Food in supermarkets is eye wateringly expensive, so we are having to choose what we buy very carefully. We did get an amazing, cheap meal while we were waiting for our laundry to be done though. We strolled past a Rastafarian café advertising “Ital” (vegan grown from the earth) food. For B$10 or £4 we got a huge plate of brown rice, peas pie, pasta, sweet potato, beans sauce, salad and hot pepper sauce! With posters of Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie, this café is only one of many in Barbados. Rastafarianism was introduced to Barbados in 1975 and presumably is a large part of the reason why vegan food is so easily available here. There are lots of cafés serving only vegetarian food and the supermarket has several reasonably priced soya products.
So far, we strongly disagree with the idea that Barbados is not good for sailing boats. They have a pragmatic approach to PCR tests if you stop here straight after crossing the Atlantic. You can dinghy straight into the town centre and tie up on the pontoon for free; water is also free. Rubbish disposal is very easy too due to the large and frequently emptied bins in the town centre. The anchorage is in a beautiful location with several shipwrecks in the bay covered in coral and swarming with tropical fish that are shallow enough to snorkel over. We have seen two turtles here so far. Yes there are cruise ships and they probably do push up the prices of some attractions (we missed out on the caves for this reason), but there are plenty of low cost and free activities, like snorkelling and beaches. The party boats can be noisy, but they only play music on weekends and it is nice to have a little bit of life a couple of days a week! The chandleries here have the most helpful staff. Plus all of the Bajan people we have met so far have been really friendly.
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